By Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album Odessa 1969
Single A-side 1969
“And you and I, our love will never die”
If a rock fan wanted to convince you that the Bee Gees are MOR sentimentalists they might well point to First of May.
Just as Boyzone’s Words emphasises the elements of that song I find hardest to get along with, so First of May exposes a tendency present in Odessa but held in abeyance until this point – a tendency towards unalloyed sentimentality.
Melody Fair and Lamplight are sentimental for sure but both are cast in fundamentally different moulds and have strongly redeeming qualities. The twinkly First of May moves sentimentality centre stage, egged on by a show-no-mercy arrangement with its lashings of strings like sugar custard poured over apple pie.
The fact that First of May was chosen by Robert Stigwood as a single A-side (with Robin’s superior Lamplight relegated to the flip) doesn’t endear me to it either. The decision signals the musical direction the Bee Gees were to take as well as being the ostensible cause of Robin’s walk out.
First of May looks forward to Cucumber Castle’s big production numbers but lacks their slightly knowing tipping of the hat towards genre clichés. It shares a little in that album’s country feel too and maybe that’s the source of the sentimentality.
When Barry harks back to his old family home, I definitely picture an American homestead. Knowing the brothers’ background in the Isle of Man and then Manchester, this makes the song feel even less genuine for me.
Buds of May
Hearing the quieter, piano-only (and very incomplete) demo on the deluxe Odessa makes me feel more tenderly towards First of May. The key is a tone lower (C instead of D major) and Barry sings with a soft tenderness on the upper registers (‘And you and I…’) which he unfortunately substitutes for full-blown effect on the album version.
Thematically, First of May belongs squarely on Odessa. I just wish it didn’t. I know it’s about the brothers’ break-up but I can’t love it for that reason alone.